Growth of LL.M. degrees benefits lawyers, schools

By Mike Scott

Legal News

As the legal profession has become even more competitive, more lawyers are using a master of laws (LL.M) degree to set themselves apart educationally for future job opportunities and promotions.

And the trend toward LL.M.s potentially offers a growth opportunity for area law schools.

Brigadier General Michael C.H. McDaniel is expecting to teach the Homeland Security LL.M. program at Cooley Law School where he serves as a professor in the Constitutional Law Department. Classes in Homeland and National Security Law program are expected to start in September 2011.

Besides serving as the director of the new Homeland Security LL.M. program, he also is an associate professor of Constitutional Law. McDaniel he has worked in a multitude of capacities to better identify those legal issues for a variety of "clients," from the federal and state governments to businesses, local municipalities, and law enforcement.

"I was struck early on by the fact that a new legal framework was needed to structure our government and to identify the rights and responsibilities of businesses and residents," McDaniel said. "I was interested in that from an academic standpoint and I looked into opportunities to act upon that."

Before the new master's in Homeland Security is established this fall, Cooley is going through the process of getting its LL.M. program approved under guidelines developed by the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission.

Wayne State University Law School offers LL.M. programs in tax, corporate finance and labor and employment law, said Professor Paul Dubinsky, director of Graduate Studies. The number of students in these programs has remained relatively constant in recent years and the challenging nature of the curriculum is one reason why.

"In part this is because the standards for graduation from these programs are high--significantly higher than the J.D. program," Dubinsky said. "Rigorous legal education such as that offered at Wayne is an extraordinarily valuable intellectual experience."

The transformation in recent decades of global economies in such developing countries as India, China, Brazil, and more have increased the need for sophisticated regulators and lawyers, Dubinsky indicated, which partially explains the popularity of LL.M. programs.

"Governments and companies all over the world recognize that legal education is something that we in the U.S. do very well," he said.

Currently the best-known law school program in National Security/Constitutional Law is at Georgetown, McDaniel said, but he hopes to help Cooley become widely recognized for legal expertise in that field as well as with the Homeland Security LL.M. McDaniel plans to maintain a practical, hands-on approach in the practicality of the law at Cooley so that courses address such topics as critical infrastructure, aviation law, cyber security, international trade secrets, supplemental corporate law topics, and more.

Other topics covered in the new LL.M will include how to defend the country's borders in air, on water, in space, and through cyber networks. The topics are in line with McDaniel's decorated background, especially given his most recent role at the Pentagon as the deputy assistant secretary for Homeland Defense Strategy, Force Planning and Mission Assurance.

"I was a part of a team that deals with highly classified defense plans. Over time I've been hoarding (non-classified) information so that I could effectively teach the basics of the course," McDaniel said.

The legal profession has seen a significant increase in the number of students entering master level degree programs. Cooley has seen its LL.M. enrollment nearly double in three years as it has added to its total of five existing programs.

Cooley's existing LL.M. programs are in intellectual property, corporate law and finance, tax insurance and a self-directed program, said Cathy McCollum, director of Graduate Programs and an LL.M. graduate herself. The self-directed program has grown by 500 percent in the last couple years, allowing students to select from a flexible option of LL.M. specialties with one or more professors.

"Our students (who enroll) in LL.M.s range from lawyers who just passed the bar to those who want to expand their existing practice or gain an added degree of specialization," McCollum said. "It's a chance for students to distinguish themselves in a competitive market."

There are no new programs planned for the very near term at Wayne State, but administrators are in the midst of determining which new programs may be of particular interest to foreign LL.M. applicants, Dubinsky said.

"There are good reasons why this may become an area of growth in the future, particularly with the recent creation of the program on International Law and with the creation of new internship programs abroad, such as the new internship at Tata Motors, Ltd. in Mumbai," Dubinsky said.

He added that Wayne State faculty administrators continually ask how they can enrich the education of its J.D. students by creating a more diverse student body and a broader range of employment opportunities.

"(We also want to) expand possibilities for faculty scholarship, and how can we increase the relevance and impact (globally) of all we do as an intellectual community," Dubinsky said.

Law schools awarded 43,588 J.D.s in 2009, an increase of 11.5 percent since 2000, according to the American Bar Association. But the National Association of Legal Professionals reports that the number of individuals employed in legal services reached an all-time high of 1.196 million in June 2007 and had fallen by 7.8 percent by the end of 2010.

Published: Fri, Mar 18, 2011